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What I’m Drinking Now: Coral Rose

Posted by Reese on 2015-04-13 @ 07:43pm

Clementines are everywhere this time of year, which is fantastic!  Clementines are the perfect cocktail orange.  So, granted, they’re technically tangerines, but, hear me out on this one.  They’re perfectly sized for cocktails (you’ll get 1 1/2 – 2 oz of juice from each one), the flavor is better than most mega-mart oranges and you can eat the leftovers for a snack.  See?  Perfection.  You can use the juice as a one for one replacement for most cocktails (it has a bit more sourness so be aware) or you can make up something new.  Like such.

Coral Rose

Coral Rose
2 oz Clementine Juice
1 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Rye Whiskey
1/4 oz Orange Bitters *

This cocktail is tart, sweet and nicely complex from the added bitters.  The rye (Dickel in this case) is a great whiskey for this drink since it has the power to stand up to the other ingredients and the spicy quality plays well with the sweetness from the juice.  Very refreshing overall and, like so many other cocktails, goes down way too easy.

* Instead of orange bitters, I used some of my homemade hibiscus orange bitters.  Basically the same ingredients as this recipe but with some added hibiscus flowers.   They add a great color and a very light floral quality.

The George Dickel Whisky Line-Up

Posted by Reese on 2015-03-30 @ 08:54pm

I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit The George Dickel Distillery in Cascade Hollow, TN and taste their full range of whiskies with distiller Allisa Henley.  I have lots to share about the distillery, the processes and the whole experience, but that will come in a later post.  This post is a quick overview of their whiskies.  Some points to think about as you read through this.

Dickel Whisky Tasting

First, Dickel produces five Tennessee whiskies and one rye.  All five of the TN whisky varieties use the exact same mash bill, follow the same distillation and mellowing process, and are aged in the same barrels in the same warehouses.  The only differences are their age, the blending and, in the case of the hand selected barrel, where the barrel aged in the warehouse plays a part.  The similarities between the whiskies give you a unique opportunity to really taste the impact that the barrel aging imparts on the whisky over the years.

Second, the whisky recipes (No. 1, 8 and 12) do not dictate the age of the whisky.  While there are typical ages that comprise each recipe, the recipe is actually better thought of as the flavor profile that is produced.  And, while we’re talking about the numbers, no one really knows where the No. 8 and No. 12 names actually came from.  Any written history of where that naming convention originated has been lost to the sands of time. Okay, enough rambling, whisky time.

No. 1 – Unaged – 45.5% ABV
George Dickel - No. 1Recipe No. 1 is Dickel’s unaged white whisky (white dog if you like).  Though, as I mentioned, it does go through the same charcoal mellowing as all of Dickel’s other whiskies.  The aroma is dead on buttered popcorn.  It’s really uncanny how much the aroma of butter comes through.  The grain aromas and flavors are very pronounced and there is a notable corn sweetness.  The whisky itself is very smooth given its proof and the burn I’d expect from an unaged whisky is only a passing trace.

I’ve always had some trouble tasting (and enjoying) white whiskies.  But, while tasting No. 1 with Allisa, she mentioned something that really rings true.  You have to taste and think about white whisky not in comparison to other whiskies, but rather in comparison to other clear spirits (namely vodka).  If you put yourself in that mindset, it all makes a heck of a lot more sense. And for me, the cocktail ideas all seemed more logical.

Classic No. 8 – 5-7 years – 40% ABV
George Dickel - No. 8Recipe No. 8 is aged 5-7 years and the character still carries a lot of the grain notes that the No. 1 started with, but adds classic barrel aged flavors and aromas.  With the grain notes you still get the hints of buttered popcorn and subtle sweetness.  Layered on top of those are flavors of light maple, oak, caramel and vanilla and the lightest hint of smoke.  The caramel and vanilla, while present, are still background elements at this age.  There is a definite boldness to this whisky that more years in the barrel begins to tame.
Superior No. 12 – 7-9 years – 45% ABV
George Dickel - No. 12Recipe No. 12 spends 7-9 years in the barrel and this is where you can really start to note the huge changes that the barrel makes in that 2 year difference from the No. 8.  In the No. 8, the caramel and vanilla notes were there, but really more background flavors.  In the No. 12, caramel and vanilla are front and center backed by leather and tobacco flavors.  The grain and corn flavors, while still present are also far more muted.

Allisa mentioned that Dickel fans typically fall into one of two camps.  They either drink the No. 8 or the No. 12 almost exclusively.  Sampling the two whiskies side by side you can really see (or should I say taste) why.  Despite their same lineage, these whiskies have vastly different personalities.  No. 8 speaks more of the grains and No. 12 of the barrel. It’s like two siblings.  You can see the resemblance, note the characteristics that tell you they’re definitely related, but then their unique personalities set them apart.

Barrel Select – Minimum 10 years (generally 10-12) – 43% ABV
George Dickel - Barrel SelectDickel Barrel Select is a small batch blend of 10 barrels hand selected and blended to reach the flavor profile desired.  Allisa’s quote about the Barrel Select really summed it up perfectly.  “So smooth it’s scary.”  The additional age for the Barrel Select has turned the bold No. 12 into a sipping whisky that really could be dangerous.  It goes down easy and before long you realize your glass is empty but you’re left wanting more.  The flavor continues the caramel and vanilla profile that was so bold in the No. 12 and adds a layer of Christmas spices and rolls it all up in fantastic smoothness.

Hand Selected Barrel – 9+ years – ABV Varies by Bottling
George Dickel - Hand Selected BarrelDickel’s hand selected barrel program lets outlets go through the process of selecting a single barrel of Dickel that possesses the exact qualities they’re looking for.  We tasted a 9 year old version (which is also what I received a few months back).  Although, I have heard tell of some 14 year old bottles out there (let the search begin)!  The flavor difference between the Barrel Select and the Hand Selected Barrel is striking.  The Hand Selected Barrel that we tasted was far bolder than the Barrel Select and had a much fruitier quality to it.  I should note that the Hand Selected Barrel was also at 51.5% ABV.  With this particular selection sitting right at the high age point for the No. 12 you also get a lot more of the bold caramel and vanilla.

Rye – 5-6 years – 45% ABV
George Dickel - RyeGeorge Dickel partners with MGP out of Indiana for the production of their rye for reasons that were both unknown and unexpected for me.  We asked Allisa if they had considered distilling their own rye base spirit and she said that they had tried it.  The problem is when you distill rye it is very foamy and comparatively sticky.  So, in order to transition between rye and their normal mash bill they have to shut down production completely, clean everything from top to bottom and then restart normal production.  When you read the next blog installment about their distillery it will make a lot more sense why the logical move is to partner with a distillery that specializes in rye.  Allisa also added that the MGP folks are meticulous about the production and Dickel can dictate exactly what they want from start to finish.

And, what Dickel wants is a 95% Rye, 5% Malted Barley rye whisky that is aged for 5-6 years.  Keeping true to their tradition, Dickel then charcoal mellows the rye in the same process used for their Tennessee whisky before bottling.  Dickel rye is the only rye that goes through the charcoal mellowing process and you can taste the difference.  The classic rye spiciness is toned down a bit and the mellowing gives the whisky a very smooth quality that’s rare in rye whiskies.  There are hints of maple, christmas spices and subtle vanilla sweetness.

If you ever get the chance to taste the full Dickel line-up in one sitting, you definitely should.  It’s a similar experience to a wine flight.  You really get a sense for what time in the barrel does for the whisky and why spirits are aged for the times that they are.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Spiced Apple Toddy

Posted by Reese on 2015-02-23 @ 09:01pm

Winter finally arrived here in Colorado to the tune of 12-16″ of snow at my house.  And that doesn’t even begin to compare to what the Northeast has seen.  But, you know what that means, friends?  It’s time for hot drinks, with booze.  I went for a hike in the snow yesterday and I definitely needing the warming strength of a toddy when I got home.

A traditional Hot Toddy is simply spirits, hot water, some spices and a bit of sweetness.  I wanted to stay semi-traditional but combine the classic toddy with hot mulled cider.  My thought process was a little fragmented starting with apple juice (duh) and brewed black tea, maybe some spices… But that led to a stroke of genius (can I call myself a genius?).  Chai concentrate, specifically Bhakti Chai concentrate.  Bhakti is highly spiced, full of ginger spiciness and already sweetened.  Add a touch of water to bring the sweetness down and the Spiced Apple Toddy was born.

But, hold your horses.  We need to talk liquor for a moment.  Surprising, I know.  Like I say in the Hot Toddy post, you have to go with a brown liquor.  There is something inherently warming about a barrel aged spirit.  For me, the only real option is whiskey.  Or in this case, whisky.  Whisky’s flavor profile of vanilla, oak, caramel and spices just works too perfectly and it has a certain gravitas.  I mean, you never hear of an old timer pulling out his flask of bubble gum vodka.

For this cocktail, I reached for George Dickel No. 12.  It has a bold but smooth character that gives it the spine to stand up to the bold flavors of the chai and sweetness of the juice.  Plus, that boldness isn’t harsh which lets it blend into the cocktail in a truly harmonious way.  Pro tip time.  Keep the pour of whisky a bit light.  Lets you hydrate, warms you up AND makes is way easier when you want a second…or ninth.

Spiced Apple Toddy

Spiced Apple Toddy
3 oz Apple Juice
3 oz Bhakti Chai Concentrate
2 oz Water
1 1/4 oz George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky
Orange Twist
Slice of Apple
1) Combine the chai, apple juice and water and heat to nearly boiling
2) Mix in the whisky
3) Garnish with an apple slice and an orange twist

Final thoughts.  You can (and should) switch up the chai, juice and whisky for whatever your personal favorites are.  But if you haven’t had Bhakti Chai, you really need to.  The same goes for the water, tweak that amount to whatever fits your palate.  This cocktail, like any, is meant to make you (or your guests) happy.  So do what works for you.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Michter’s Whiskey

Posted by Reese on 2015-02-18 @ 09:19pm

When I first started experimenting with cocktails with Cocktail Hacker Emeritus, Aaron, I knew very little about spirits at all.  I had a scant few bottles that I would consider favorites and a slightly larger few that were my house choices for cocktails.  I distinctly remember one of the times I was hanging out with Aaron we make a special trip to Denver in search of Michter’s American Whiskey.  Aaron had a more developed taste for whiskey at the time and had been trying different bottles.  He’d settled on Michter’s as his favorite (for the time at least) and he was woefully out.  I went along happily (any trip to a liquor store is a good one) and ended up with a bottle on my shelf as well.  This story, albeit rambling and a little pointless, came rushing back to my head when sample bottles of Michter’s came through my door.  And, I can now say with conviction and considerable experience that Aaron was on to something those years ago.  This stuff is damn good.

Michter's US*1 Lineup

Michter’s US*1 Bourbon (45.7% ABV) – The striking amber/brown color catches your eye and draws you in.  Despite the higher than average proof, the aroma bears little to no raw alcohol smell.  Instead, it speaks of caramel, vanilla and the smoothness of the whiskey.  The flavor, as you might expect, follows suit.  The flavor is rich and full with hints of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch.  Fruit and slight notes of oak and smoke play throughout as well.  The finish is long and mellow with a distinct sweetness.

Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey (41.7% ABV) – The amber color speaks simply to the nature of this whiskey; powerful and complex.  The aroma of the American Whiskey is more forward than the Bourbon with more fruity qualities and the caramel and vanilla you’d expect.  The flavor too is more fruity (dried/candied fruits) but interestingly less sweet (likely from the second fill on the barrels).  This spirit seems more purely whiskey to me.  You can taste the grain notes and there is a sub-channel of rye spiciness and holiday spices running throughout.  The medium length finish is lightly dry with the vanilla and holiday spices floating along through the end.  Only as the flavor fades did I pick up the gentle oaky notes of the barrel.

Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye (42.4% ABV) – Honey brown in color with fruit and spice throughout the aroma.  There is an interesting tangy note to the nose which hints at the complex flavor to come.  There are, of course, the spiciness and holiday spice qualities that you want in a great rye plus deep fruit flavors that remind me of sherry finished scotch.  There are also the expected vanilla and caramel, but with more depth and complexity.  The flavor is truly full and rich extending into a long, complex and smooth finish.

Through all three of these whiskies, you can taste the lower proof that the whiskey enters the barrel (103 proof).  It gives the finished product more depth and sweetness since less water is added to bring the spirits down to their bottle proof.  Now, granted, I’m a giant rye nerd, but I really enjoyed Michter’s Straight Rye.  For me it has a complexity and depth that a lot of ryes on the market right now don’t bring to the table.  That said, all three of these whiskies are great.  It was almost a little hard to review them.  I wanted to keep the secret to myself and protect the bottles I might be able to find. :)

PS – The Old Fashioned I made with Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey was perfect in its simplicity.  Amazing how little fooling around great spirits need to make great cocktails.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Locavore Vesper

Posted by Reese on 2015-02-05 @ 08:19pm

Last week, while chatting about cocktails, a coworker reminded me of the classic Vesper.  Loved by James Bond, enjoyed, but not truly loved, by me the last time I mixed it up and reintroduced to the world during Casino Royale this is a cocktail I should love.  Strong measure of gin, some bitterness and a bit of vodka to round it all out.

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.
Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”
Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, Chapter 7, “Rouge et Noir’

Sounds about right, but the last time I had issues with the Lillet.  The original recipe calls for a Kina Lillet, which is no longer made.  Lillet Blanc, while very tasty, doesn’t have the quinine bitterness (the kina) found in Kina Lillet.  Thankfully, Cocchi Americano has made its way into the American market.  Cocchi (pronounced COKE-ey) Americano brings back the cinchona quinine bitterness and makes the Vesper awesome again.

Having so many great spirits options close by, I decided to co-opt the locavore trend and go with a local gin and vodka.  The gin is one I’ve talked about here before, namely Roundhouse.  And, the vodka I chose, Sno, comes from J&L distilling, the makers of my also deeply loved Fyr liqueur.  Typically, I reach for a vodka that is completely pure and free of any flavor.  That’s generally what it’s there for anyhow.  In this version of the Vesper, I wanted something with a little more character.  Sno fills that need perfectly.  Distilled from sugarcane, Sno has a character similar to some white rums, but its mouth feel is where it really shines.  Adding a silky quality both on it’s own and in the cocktails you mix it into, Sno definitely isn’t just a filler vodka. *

Locavore Vesper

This time, the Vesper has really stepped up.  As you’d expect, the gin is the star.  But the vodka adds a wonderful fullness to the flavor and a velvety texture.  It’s hard to put into words, but absolutely distinct.  The Cocchi Americano adds exactly the bitterness that I looking for the last time.  In fact, my added orange bitters weren’t needed here.  This is one of those truly pure cocktails that have been moving more and more to the fore on my list.  And, like any martini, the Vesper is highly configurable simply by swapping out the gin and vodka for your favorites.  If you haven’t mixed up a Vesper, you need to.  In advance, you’re welcome.

Locavore Vesper
1 1/2 oz Roundhouse Gin
1/2 oz Sno Vodka
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
Lemon Twist for Garnish
1) Combine gin, vodka and Cocchi in a mixing glass
2) Add ice and stir until well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a lemon twist

PS – I went back to stirring.  When you gin and vodka taste so damn good, it’s better not to over-chill them.

* I may be partial to this particular bottle because I helped bottle it. But other bottles of Sno are equally great.